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The truth about the Medevac 'four-star' asylum seekers

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Unlike media claims that the Medevac Bill promotes four-star holidays, first-hand evidence exposes abuse and neglect of onshore detainees, writes Jane Salmon. 

While a recent article in the Courier Mail claimed that medically evacuated asylum seekers were living it up in Australia, concerns over the conditions of refugees being detained onshore for medical treatment are the norm. 

Refugee advocates who have visited these so-called 'four-star' locations, which include hotels designated as “alternative places of detention” (APODs) in Melbourne and Brisbane, the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation (BITA) facility and others, report that the opposite is true.

The sadness moves through the “camp” like a virus. Some are just staying in their rooms all days filled with hopelessness. 

The costs and inefficiencies of ongoing detention are only one concern. Although cheaper than offshore detention, onshore care for those who have been held offshore for up to seven years is criticised by witness and detainees. 

One criticism is that, although the Federal Government contracts out the health care role to International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), its doctors can only recommend health care A for detainee B, with a non-medical body, Australian Border Force, deciding whether, and if so when, that care will be provided. 

The 'four-star' accommodation

Visitors to these facilities have detailed conditions to IA as well as their wish to remain anonymous so as not to jeopardise ongoing access to the refugees.

First-hand reports reveal:

  • that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s assertions of treatment refusal by refugees are not supported by the facts; 
  • issues with access to interpreters and support to address previous medical trauma offshore are rarely acknowledged;
  • many people brought for treatment have not received the treatment;
  • treatment is being withheld or delayed with men brought for hernia operations eight months ago who have still not had the operations, despite having had the condition for years on the islands; and 
  • disastrous botched operations in PNG or Nauru, including people who came out of operations there missing ovaries or testicles.

A report by the Australian Human Rights Commissioner [AHRC] about the condition in detention in Brisbane is due to be published. Advocates call on the AHRC to deliver that report quickly.

At present, doctors working for the Federal Government’s health contractor International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) must ask Australian Border Force (ABF) – a non-medical body – for permission to arrange external dental, medical, or psychiatric care for detainees. ABF then decides whether or not that care will be arranged and, if so, when — just as it did, pre-Medevac, when the IHMS doctors’ requests were coming from offshore.

The 'four-star' health contractor

Concerning reports about the actual IHMS treatment of detainees include the following:

  • dental treatment is woefully inadequate with extractions offered instead of root canal treatment, for example, the men are told they are only allowed two dental extractions per year (with Australian standards always quoted);
  • one man accidentally broke his glasses and was told they would not be replaced for two years;
  • detainees are constantly being told they are in a queue but have been waiting a long time before they even arrived;
  • a burns case man was not held in hospital, but in a hotel, from which he was transferred to hospital every day;
  • if the APOD is a four-star hotel, it is certainly not serving four-star meals to the detainees, who receive frozen meals to microwave in the evening;
  • the APOD (82 people here) is crawling with guards everywhere;
  • women complain about the guards entering their rooms unexpectedly while they were undressed; and 
  • the only exercise the detainees receive is via a ride to BITA, with intrusive searches and pat-downs occurring every time. 

After the AHRC visit and UN visits, there have been a few improvements. 

Detention syndrome 

Detainees’ mental condition continues to decline because they are not being released into community detention. (Very few have been released in the last four months.) Some have been detained here over a year now. Many have already been refused access to community detention.

We have witnessed the decline. The sadness moves through the “camp” like a virus. Some are just staying in their rooms all days filled with hopelessness. 



You can follow Jane Salmon on Twitter @jsalmonupstream.

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